Greece’s ruling New Democracy party stormed to a crushing victory in a parliamentary election on Sunday but fell just short of the threshold needed to form a government on its own.
With most votes counted, conservative New Democracy took a commanding lead of 40.8%, trouncing the radical leftist Syriza, which governed from 2015 to 2019, which polled 20.1%.
Greece’s interior ministry projected that New Democracy could win 145 seats in parliament, six short of an absolute majority.
On Monday, Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou will give the top three parties – New Democracy, Syriza and the Socialist PASOK – three days each in turn to form a coalition government.
If they all fail, Sakellaropoulou will appoint a caretaker government to prepare new elections about a month later.
Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he believed he was given a clear mandate.
“The ballot results are decisive. They show that New Democracy has the approval of the people to rule, strong and autonomous,” he told cheering crowds outside party headquarters in downtown Athens.
The result was a stunning boost for Mitsotakis, whose administration had to contend with a wiretapping scandal, the Covid pandemic, a cost of living crisis and a deadly rail crash in February which triggered public outrage.
In equal measure, it was a disaster for Syriza and its leader Alexis Tsipras, a firebrand leftist catapulted to power in 2015 on the back of voters’ discontent with other parties over their handling of the debt crisis which ravaged Greece’s economy for more than a decade.
Tsipras telephoned Mitsotakis to congratulate him on his win, a Syriza official said.
Greece almost crashed out of the euro at the peak of its debt crisis in 2015, forcing the country, under Tsipras’s watch, to take a third bailout from international lenders.
Mitsotakis, elected in 2019, had portrayed himself as a safe pair of hands in his campaign to win the votes of just under 10 million Greeks, promising to raise wages and pensions cut during the crisis.
The result rewarded Mitsotakis’s focus on trying to improve financial conditions for Greeks, said Panos Koliastasis, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Politics at the University of Peloponnese.
“He also had a clear proposal of (how) he will be in power – that of an autonomous government. The alternative of Syriza, of a coalition government, wasn’t that realistic because others refused to cooperate,” he said.
Elections in Greece are held every four years for the 300-seat parliament.